By Timothy Rawles
The popular bar Stacy's @ Melrose in Phoenix is usually packed wall-to-wall with people enjoying cocktails and live entertainment. But 2020 has been cruel to small business owners, especially nightclubs and bars.
Stacy's is no exception. Owner Stacy Louis closed his popular bar in March of 2020 and kept it closed for six months. Through Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) loans, he was able to sustain his employees for a little while.
"I got a couple of grants and paid a few bills," he tells Echo. "And I re-opened early in September — I’m just going to say it — September 11. What a stupid day for me to re-open, but I did. We are approved by the fire department to have 323 occupancy seats. Well, we can only have half of that for me to be open right now; that’s 161 people. I only have 86 chairs in my bar and with social distancing, I couldn’t even go out and buy more tables and chairs. I just can’t get any more in there and be socially-distanced acceptable to the state.”
He says that normally his bar takes in about a million dollars a year. After his September re-opening, that number dropped to just under half.
Now, due to recent COVID-19 concerns from the public, that amount is about $4,000 a week. "I have payroll, I have rent. And I can’t do it anymore," he said getting a little emotional.
Even the popular and lucrative entertainment events had to go on hiatus for safety reasons.
“I had a couple of drag shows that I had started back, and they were doing pretty well, bringing in some money. Well, each of the shows had a drag queen test positive for COVID. So I, not just for me, I stopped drag shows until further notice. I said even if you’re all testing negative, I don’t want the possibility of Stacy’s at Melrose being the place that people go to to become positive for COVID.”
Stacy notes that there are local clubs that seem to be doing okay even in the face of another shutdown. But that's because they might not be as uncompromising when it comes to safety as he is.
“I think some of the other bars are doing better than me because they aren’t as strict," he says. "I’m not trying to put the other bars down. It’s like you don’t want your family to be that place where people start catching COVID and get that reputation.”
He adds: “I have to set the standard that I live by.”
Unfortunately, now Stacy has to reach out to the community for help in the form of a GoFundMe page; something he says is completely out of his character.
“I’d rather have a fun event to raise the money rather than put my hand out," he says, pausing for a moment. "I do not ask for money. I never in my life have, not once. I’m horrible at it.”
As of this writing, the campaign has raised $4,720; far below the goal of $150K. But every little bit helps. He says he is especially humbled by the generosity of his landlord, Steve Rogers, who hasn't asked him for rent for about six months.
Stacy plans to talk to Rogers in December about it all. “He’s who I’m concerned about. He has the place that used to be called Amsterdam; he’s got three stores all right there in one place. And he needs to pay his mortgage too. So that’s a big concern. I’ve got a manager who I haven’t paid in a month. I’ve got employees that I’m cutting hours from. It’s just crazy!”
Stacy has been a supportive member of the Phoenix LGBTQ community for many years. A bartender himself, he served the public for 14 years prior to venturing out on his own with the purchase of Stacy's in 2013.
Since then, Stacy's @ Melrose has been one of the quintessential destinations in the Phoenix area not only for the LGBTQ community but for, "every race, creed, and color."
For Stacy, his guests are more than just consumers. They are like family —they are family. He feels the same way about his employees.
“Let me tell you, after my daughter and my sister and my brother and my fiancé — and all of the family that I have," Stacy says, "my employees and my customers are everything to me!"
The monetary goal of this fundraising effort is $150K which may seem like a lot, but every penny is essential to the survival of the club. If that goal is fulfilled, he says it would carry him through March of 2021, "maybe a little further.”
The threat of Stacy's shuttering after all of these years would not only be a blow to the community but a personal loss for the man himself.
"I thrive on being at the bar," says Stacy. "I love to interact with everyone. It’s just who I am. I love everyone. I do!”
If you would like to donate to the fundraiser click here.
Stacy's @ Melrose is located at 4343 North Seventh Avenue in Phoenix.